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District 13: Ultimatum -- Film Review

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NEW YORK -- Hard-hitting action marks "District 13: Ultimatum," a satisfying sequel to "District B13." Disillusioned rebel Leito (parkour expert David Belle) teams again with double-crossed cop Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) to save a walled-off Parisian slum from nuclear annihilation. Pitched cannily at World Beat fans as well as martial-arts zealots, this Luc Besson production aims to please and nails its targets with more speed and style than most of its higher-priced competition.

Besson also wrote the script, which finds the French Secret Service collaborating with the evil Harriburton conglomerate to cleanse some valuable real estate the government had previously written off, but which is now controlled by five competing ethnic gangs. When Roland (Pierre-Marie Mosconi) and other Secret Service agents frame gang leaders for the murder of two cops, the military has an excuse to deploy nuclear weapons.

Standing in their way: Leito, first seen trying to bomb his way out of District 13, and Tomasso, introduced in drag during a drug bust. In a brilliantly choreographed sequence, Tomasso takes out dozens of bad guys and disarms a doomsday bomb while holding a priceless Van Gogh canvas. It's a breathless bit of derring-do that ranks with the best martial-arts fights of the past few years.

Arrested on trumped-up charges by Roland and his boss Walter Gassman (Daniel Duval), Tomasso seeks out Leito's help. Breaking into and out of jail, the duo then have to broker peace among the five gangs before leading an assault on a heavily armed command center where Gassman and the French President (Philippe Torreton) are preparing their attack.

Backed by a pounding score, "Ultimatum" builds a teeming canvas for its leads, with location shooting in Serbia providing a suitably decayed look for the B13 slums. In fact, "Ultimatum" marks an almost complete upgrade over "District B13": better fights, better supporting cast and less pointless sadism and perversion. Raffaelli, a memorable thug in "Live Free or Die Hard," has improved tremendously since the original.

His acting is much more persuasive, while his fighting and action choreography are world-class. Belle figures into an extraordinary chase down the outside of a high-rise apartment building, but stays in the background for much of the film.

"District B13" director Pierre Morel has moved on to films like "Taken" and "From Paris with Love." He's replaced by Patrick Alessandrin, better known in France for domestic comedies like "Mauvais esprit." Alessandrin handles the action chores here adroitly, but credit for "District 13: Ultimatum" really belongs to Luc Besson, perhaps the hardest-working man in the French film industry.

Opens: Feb. 5 (Magnolia Pictures)
Production companies: EuropaCorp, TF1 Films Prod., Ciby 2000, in association with Sofia EuropaCorp, with the participation of Canal Plus and CineCinema
Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung, MC Jean Gab'1, James Deano, Laouni Mouhid dit la Fouine, Fabrice Feltzinger, Pierre-Marie Mosconi
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Screenwriter/producer: Luc Besson
Executive producer: Didier Hoarau
Director of photography: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Production designer: Hugues Tissandier
Costume designer: Thierry Delettre
Visual effects supervisor: Alain Carsoux
Music: Da Octapuss, Trak Invaders
Editor: Julien Rey
Rated R, 101 minutes